MANILA, June 7, 2004
THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco  -  The summer is over, and another school year is just starting. This means a countdown to the first semester sport of basketball, and the NCAA and UAAP seasons are just around the corner. For the Philippine Basketball Association, June marks the playoffs for seats in the next round of the Fiesta Conference, and the start of voting for the coming All-Star Game in August.

I sat down with broadcaster Jude Turcuato, the new marketing director of the PBA, to ask him about the league’s plans for the rest of the Fiesta Conference and the off-season. Turcuato took over from Robbie Puno, younger brother of broadcaster and lawyer Dong Puno and political strategist Ronnie. Robbie had to leave his post to help his mother-in-law Boots Anson Roa in the last election campaign. This will be the first time that the league will be taking a break during the college basketball tournaments.

"There are two things that are immediate for me," reckoned Turcuato, whose new designation may constrain him to give up his hosting of the popular program "SportsTV" in lieu of commentating on PBA Games. "First is the formation of the national team. Second is improving the events within the venues of the PBA games."

According to Turcuato, representing the country in an international competition is a responsibility the PBA will not abandon at the moment. One of the reasons the league shifted its schedule is to give them greater flexibility in preparing a team for just such a purpose.

"I’ve heard that the Korean leagues already have players allocated for international tournaments," Jude continued. "They get together a month before a competition and, since they’re already so familiar with each other, it’s easy for them to blend their talents. We could do something similar here."

One thing that Turcuato is upbeat about is the league’s All-Star Week, tentatively slated for Cebu in the first week of August. This will not be a run-of-the-mill staging of the annual classic, but will feature many more events to re-connect the players (especially the Fil-Ams) with the fans. There will be media events, fans’ days, and outdoor activities at one of the malls in Cebu, with the highlight, of course, the first North-South All-Star Game in years.

"We want the players to meet and get to know members of the media, especially in the Visayas," explained Turcuato, who once played in the NABL in the US. "That is one sure way for us to continue building our audience."

I jokingly asked where the Fil-Ams would be playing, since there is no West All-Star team. It seems the bulk of them will be suiting up for the South, since many claim roots in places like Samar.

One more major project for Turcuato is to draw more people to the live games. Although attendance is up twenty percent from last season, he feels there are still many areas of improvement.

"I’d like that, once a person buys their ticket and walks into the venue, it is an entertainment experience for them," he said, comparing his plans to how teams like the Los Angeles Lakers run their live games, with fireworks, the Laker Girls, laser shows and other activities. And one of the components of this project is the formation of a permanent cheering squad for the league. Apparently, the last incarnation, the short-lived "Honeyshots," did not generate the reviews expected from the fans. So Turcuato is now looking at raising the standard. After all, cheerleading is a big thing in college ball.

Another innovation he proposes is adding more video components during timeouts and breaks in between games. This will not only bring in additional revenues, but also excite the fans more, particularly if they can see themselves on the giant screens that surround the court.

Down the road, the PBA’s marketing team is even looking at having a theme restaurant and bar, similar to the NBA City (run by Hard Rock Café) in Orlando, Florida. At the three-story NBA City, one can not only purchase merchandise and memorabilia, but eat in different NBA themed dining areas, while watching classic and present games on several monitors that dot the walls.

This will also be aided by an expanded merchandising line. PBA Properties is still relatively young, and there are several potential product categories and designs still open to the market. Whatever will work, the PBA’s marketing group is willing to try.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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